The crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kwara State reached its climax last week with the removal of Bashir Bolarinwa as the caretaker chairman of the party in the state.
The protracted crisis has broken the party into two factions and pitted Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq against the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in a struggle for the control of the party.
Mr Bolarinwa, who is loyal to the minister, was removed by the Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni-led national caretaker committee of the party last Tuesday and replaced with Abdullahi Samari.
While the faction loyal to the governor swiftly lauded the development, party members on the side of Mr Mohammed see the hand of the governor in it and have been made even angrier.
The state’s lawmakers, however, have endorsed the removal of Mr Bolarinwa and decried his public criticism of the state government.
Since APC regained control of Kwara following a sweeping victory in the 2019 general elections in the state, the party has been in crisis.
The defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by former Senate President Bukola Saraki in the state was made possible by the coalition of forces of the opponents of the Saraki family.
As a minister and the highest political office holder in the state after Mr Saraki and his loyalists defected to the PDP, Mr Mohammed naturally coordinated the efforts of the coalition.
The APC message in the 2019 general election was a call to Kwarans to end the hegemony of the Saraki family which had installed every elected government in the state.
The call resonated with Kwarans as the APC swept the poll and won every seat and the presidential election. Mr Saraki also lost his senatorial seat in the elections.
Mr AbdulRazaq, a little-known scion of a prominent Ilorin family that has long stood in opposition to the Sarakis, was elected governor on the ticket of the APC.
However, after vanquishing their common enemy, the APC forces immediately turned on themselves.
Following the defection of the Saraki group to the PDP, the APC dissolved the state executive committee led by Ishola Balogun-Fulani and appointed a caretaker committee headed by Mr Bolarinwa.
Some members challenged the appointment of the committee in courts but the courts up to the Supreme Court dismissed the suits.
But some aggrieved members in the faction loyal to Mr AbdulRazaq continued to oppose Mr Bolarinwa’s leadership of the party.
Mr Bolarinwa escalated the crisis when he began to criticise the governor and his government in public. He alleged that the governor had sidelined the party in his government.
AbdulRazaq or Mohammed?
The turmoil in the party soon pitted the governor against Mr Mohammed.
The minister is from the southern part of the state and had himself run for governor in 2003 under the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which later metamorphosed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the legacy parties that formed the APC.
Mr Mohammed later became the National Publicity Secretary of APC. His status as a national leader of the party and a minister made him a rallying point for party leaders who felt sidelined by the governor.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the aides of the minister and governor for their reactions to the dissolution of the caretaker committee, they declined comments.
Also, Mr Bolarinwa did not respond to requests for his reaction.
Still in trenches
However, the warring groups in the party have maintained their positions in the crisis.
A party leader on the side of the minister, Iyiola Oyedepo, accused the governor of orchestrating the removal of Mr Bolarinwa.
“We have resolved to reject the verdict of the National Caretaker Committee on the purported removal of Bashir Omolaja Bolarinwa,” Mr Oyedepo said at a press conference in Ilorin.
He appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to save the party from “the imminent destruction that the decision can engender in Kwara”.
“We also appeal to leaders of integrity and goodwill in the party to save it from this deliberate journey to political perdition.
“We appeal to our teeming supporters for calm; they should remain steadfast, resolute and continue to support this historical cause once again.
But party leaders sympathetic to the governor welcomed Mr Bolarinwa’s removal.
Kunle Suleiman, the immediate-past Nigerian Ambassador to Malaysia and member of the Kwara APC Elders Forum loyal to the governor, accused Mr Bolarinwa of leading a gang-up against Mr AbdulRasaq and distracting him from governance.
The state House of Assembly also gleefully expressed support for the removal of Mr Bolarinwa.
The lawmakers conveyed their position through a letter signed by all the 24 members of the party in the assembly, which was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
The lawmakers said the removal of Mr Bolarinwa would bring an end to the “embarrassment” he constituted to the APC in the state.
The lawmakers described the action of the national leadership in removing Mr Bolarinwa as “better late than never.”
They said the development was “the only antidote that can bring back sanity, trust and loyalty as well as breed positive development to the state through good governance”.
“Your Excellency, it is better imagined than witnessed, of the absolute anti-party and anti-government activities brazenly and continually displayed by the suspended Chairman, Hon. Bashir Omolaja Bolarinwa. His activities in reference, appear to be motivated by certain power blocks.
“How can a party chairman of a ruling party go public in a radio station to say that he has not seen anything developmental being executed by his governor and yet they continue to accommodate each other?
“As a follow up to his own unguarded outburst, a deliberately sponsored weekly (Tuesdays) radio programme, at a politically unfriendly radio station, used to continually and provocatively embarrass and attack the person of Kwara State Governor as well as his government.
“The suspended chairman and his cohorts and by their conduct, hobnobbing occasionally with members of the opposition, to further frustrate Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq administration is another anti-party conduct. As concerned legislators, we made several peace moves most of which got aborted either by the suspended chairman himself or his allies.
“The suspension of the ex-chairman has relieved us of this unfortunate instigated man-made continual crisis within Kwara State APC. We hereby assure your leadership of our continued support, cooperation and loyalty towards sustaining our party to greater heights.”
Meanwhile, in order to resolve the crisis, the party summoned Messrs AbdulRazaq and Mohammed to a meeting on Monday in Abuja.
The meeting had the APC National Caretaker, Mai Mala Buni; Niger State Governor and zonal chairman of the party in North Central, Abubakar Sanni-Bello; and other chieftains of the party in attendance.
After the meeting, Governor Bello spoke with journalists.
“We looked at the issues surrounding APC in Kwara State and we had brief submissions from some of the stakeholders and it was resolved that the matter should be taken back to the zone for the zone to look at the issues surrounding the problems and report back to the National Caretaker Committee.
“So, I hope that by next week we should be able to resolve the matter at the zonal level and once that is done, we can put our recommendations to the National Caretaker Committee for further action.”
The Niger governor continued: ”It was a very brief meeting which lasted maybe 30 minutes. But I think we have achieved a lot. I can also say that the cause of this conflict is mostly due to communication gap which I hope we were able to resolve. But whatever decision we will take, we will make sure that there is no bias and that it is in the interest of our great party, the APC.
“We have no intention to favour any person but to look critically at the situation and to advise the National Caretaker Committee on the necessary steps to take”.
Meanwhile, Rafiu Ajakaye, the chief press secretary to Governor AbdulRazaq, said he had nothing to add to the comments by the Niger governor on the matter.
Joe Mutah, the Chief Press Secretary to the Minister, said he was on leave and had no information about the meeting.